Since Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis announced Nov. 14 that the city will bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics, Utah Olympic backers have enjoyed strong support in the polls and heard only a murmur of public opposition.

But how long will it be before Olympics critics shed their silence and organize to battle against the Games coming to Utah? Soon, say city officials, Olympic organizers and some of their little-seen opponents.The Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee has done well to "not leave any issues on the table that would provoke opposition," DePaulis said. Indeed, few have criticized the committee's progress thus far.

Even environmentalists, some of the loudest past opponents of the Games have been placated by assertions that no Olympic venues will be placed in the environ mentally sacred Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

"I think they (the organizing committee) have been very solicitous," said Anne Wechsler, co-chairman of the environmental group Save Our Canyons and a member of the organizing committee.

And if the city continues to be environmentally sensitive in pursuing the Games, Wechsler said, the groups may not actively oppose the Games even as a planned fall referendum vote on the issue approaches.

"It seems to be such a feverish attempt to get the Games here that it wouldn't be wise to oppose them as long as they agree not to insult those particular canyons," she said.

Nevertheless, Save Our Canyons is in the midst of polling its membership to further refine the group's position on the Games and Wechsler admits "it would not take much to get people organized."

Another environmental group, the Sierra Club, will take a formal vote on the issue soon, said Utah Chapter Chairman Gibbs Smith. "We support the effort of questioning the full-bore-ahead approach to the Games," he said.

And, on the anti-tax front, a strong defense also could huddle, said KTKK talk-show host Mills Crenshaw. "If they want to use tax money for the Olympics, then you will see the organized opposition develop," he said.

Additionally, some individuals are laying the foundation for formal opposition to the Games. Alexis Kelner, one of a few who have spoken against the Games, said he is preparing such a move.

"I'm toying with forming an opposition group and even have a name for it," he said, declining to reveal the label.

Although DePaulis said it's too early in the Olympics race, which reaches its first hurdle when the U.S. Olympics Committee chooses a city to bid internationally for the Games, to expect real opposition, the race may tighten.

"We have tried so hard to mitigate all of those issues that might have been on the table, but then again, we may not see any response until the election," he said.

Perhaps one reason there is little friction now is because Utahns are still brushing up on Olympic facts, Wechsler said. But as citizens grow more knowledgeable on the Games, that may change.

"Before the Olympics referendum (this fall) there will be plenty of information aired and that's when either opposition or support will begin to take shape," Wechsler said.

Tom Welch, organizing committee chairman, said that although polls show there "is a good feeling out there in the community, . . . I don't believe that there is now and that there ever will be a situation where there is no opposition."

Most want to host

Seventy-six percent of Utahns recently sruveyed in a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll either strongly support or somewhat support Salt Lake City's hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics. Fifty-two percent surveyed believed tax dollars should be used to pay for the Games.